The story about India's best-loved storyteller

Yesterday, at India's 2nd Comic Con in New Delhi, the pioneers of India's comic book revolution -- Amar Chitra Katha, released one of their most-awaited titles; a tribute to ACK founder, Anant Pai. Fiona Fernandez turns the pages along with its Editor Reena Puri

I'm sure 'Unc'(it's how many at Amar Chitra Katha addressed Uncle Pai) would've admonished the thought of having a title on him!"admits Reena Puri, in between chuckles, over the phone line from Bengaluru, before admitting that it was her idea to create this title: "It was an emotional link. He taught me all that there is to know about children's writing. Such titles will inspire children. Period."

Uncle Pai at work in his cabin

Read between the lines
It's a few days since the most recent addition to ACK's Visionary section reached our office. Flipping through this 32-pager brought back memories of a brief, inspiring stint at the ACK office inside Mahalakshmi Chambers where Uncle Pai held court. The title is a delight for anybody who might have read an Amar Chitra Katha or Tinkle in their lifetime. It unveils the life, a tough one, which had humble beginnings in rural Karnataka; he moved several foster homes, and encountered numerous obstacles at school and later, in his adult life. His unflinching desire to dream big for India's young readers is established almost immediately.

The artwork for Anant Pai's title were created by Ram

Flash forward to the present where we ask Puri about her thoughts during this emotional journey. She worked with the genius for over 20 years. "I thought I would do the script but the then COO, Ashish Goyal felt I would get too emotionally involved. I didn't write it. We thought of Gayatri (Chandrasekaran) who has worked with Unc and ACK for over 10 years. She still works on current scripts; it was an easy choice," she reasons.

Research, thy middle name
While the product, from idea to print took nearly a year to complete, collating the research for this Herculean effort confronted Puri, the guiding light and Editor of this project: "Luckily, Unc was very meticulous. He maintained a 'Glory Board' inside his cabin, which featured every mention of ACK or Tinkle. This helped immensely. Besides, he kept a file of newspaper clippings. After Gayatri and I had prepared multiple drafts, we handed these to Subba Rao, one of Unc's oldest colleagues at ACK, for his final touch," adding quickly that his inputs proved invaluable -- "He had so many memories of Unc..."

The ACK team working on this important title also sourced valuable information from his wife, Lalita, sister, Prema, Subba Rao, ex-colleagues at The Times of India, children, parents and several others whose lives were touched by him. "Everybody had a special story to share," she adds. One couldn't but notice that Uncle Pai's story ends in the comic book, in 1983-84, after ACK and Tinkle became household names across India.

Uncle Pai always believed that India's children deserved to know
more about their rich culture and history

"This was the biggest challenge. We had to keep the length to 32 pages. After all, Unc had set this rule for every ACK title," letting us in on this in-house commandment. "There were hundreds of 'Uncle Pai' stories to tell our readers; we had to take the story forward without losing its relevance. We ended the story where we did for two reasons -- it had to reach out to children and secondly, we were dealing with a contemporary legend. So, we left it to the point where Anant Pai is remembered as the immortal storyteller and his dreams had reached fruition." Puri shares that it was a joint decision.

The doublespread from the title that shows how Tinkle became
a household name

The editor I knew...
Talk veers to Uncle Pai, the Editor. "Oh, he would never ask me to do a task. He left things to me. When I took over as Assistant Editor, he would always expect me to take the route. He seemed to have great confidence in my ability -- which made me nervous," one is able to sense the gratitude across the miles. Puri takes us back to the time when the ACK offices had burnt down. "Unc was deliberating a break. But I said we could get the next edition out, on time. He expected a positive reply from me; he knew we'd do our best and emerge stronger. That's what made him special."

Anant Pai: Master Storyteller, Vol 834, Amar Chitra Katha
Rs 50

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